Teacher-Student Relationships in a Philadelphia High School

Bridget Julie Bujak, University of Pennsylvania


“I would have stayed in school longer if my school had…better relationships between students and teachers,” is the number one answer of student respondents in a Youth United for Change (2011) study entitled, Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Dropout Crisis in Philadelphia (p. 13). In the study, 45 percent of the 233 participants highlighted this reason for no longer attending their respective high schools. This statistic points to a critical situation in Philadelphia that we, as educators, must address. The purpose of this study was to focus on this concern by seeking out the perspectives of recent high school graduates. By asking former students about their experiences with teachers, a plethora of insights were gained on how to develop positive relationships. Also, this research, unlike previous studies, was not to examine the end results or outcomes of positive teacher-student relationships, but rather to investigate what these relationships looked and felt like in daily practice. Qualitative data was collected through 20 semi-structured interviews and observations. The participants were alumni from a small, urban high school in the School District of Philadelphia. Three key findings emerged from this study: (1) Positive teacher relationships matter and made a difference for students; (2) Feeling “cared-for” is the critical component in developing positive teacher-student relationships; and (3) There are many different approaches for teachers to build positive relationships with their students. This study contributes to the current bodies of literature related to teacher-student relationships. It also adds to the discussion of how educators can better address the socio-emotional side of their teaching practices.

Subject Area

Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Bujak, Bridget Julie, "Teacher-Student Relationships in a Philadelphia High School" (2021). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28862301.